By Dan Simolke | Shadow and Act May 2, 2013 at 1:35PM
I’m a huge fan of Steven Soderbergh. He’s always doing something different, and his recent “State of Cinema” address at the San Francisco Film Festival was the kind of brilliance we’ve come to expect from him, and hopefully some sort of a wake-up call to the industry.
Unfortunately, he says he’s retiring, and what could be his last movie, “Behind the Candelabra,” will be premiering at Cannes soon.
It got me thinking about something that crossed my mind when “Magic Mike” turned out to be quite a hit last summer: why were there no black actors cast as strippers/dancers in the movie? And why weren’t these characters more diverse in general, not just related to race?
Now, a filmmaker can obviously cast whoever they see fit. I just can’t help but wonder why there wasn’t a black actor involved as one of the main dancers. It’s not like they were consciously excluded from the storyline, it’s just that their absence doesn’t even seem entirely believable.
There’s no way a cutthroat business man like Matthew McConaghuey’s character, Dallas, wouldn’t want to have this industry covered from all angles. Why omit the opportunity to represent a larger part of the culture? It even makes sense from a commercial stand-point, not just in the case of the narrative, but in the case of the film’s audience. If you widen the range of ethnicities included, the larger your demographic becomes.
This is particularly true in the case of “Magic Mike” where a prominent part of your audience is not just women, but women going together in groups and almost turning the movie into an event. When women go to “Magic Mike,” I would be inclined to think they don’t discriminate, and may even have preferences.
That’s not to say there’s zero diversity in the film. Adam Rodriguez is Puerto Rican and Cuban, and Joe Manganiello is of Italian, Austrian, and Armenian descent, but their roles are quite limited. Also, it’s clear that if you go back far enough, everyone in the United States comes from another country. So the intricacies of “diversity” can really be debated all day.
I’m talking about specific groups here, and with a premise like the one “Magic Mike” has, you should really cater to every audience you can.
When thinking of the film’s commercial viability, even more perplexing is its lack of a gay character. This would theoretically increase the film’s audience, and wouldn’t alienate the female viewers because there’s still plenty of what they came for, and certainly a gay man can still be attractive to a woman. Not to suggest that women attended the film purely for the eye candy on display, there were intellectual reasons as well (for one, Soderbergh is just an incredibly skilled filmmaker), but I’m sure we can agree primal urges may have factored in on some level.
Not only would the inclusion of a gay character have been progressive, I just think it probably would have been interesting thematically to examine one in this male-dominated context. I remember seeing an episode of “Conan” after the movie came out, where even Andy Richter was questioning why none of the characters were gay. Matt Bomer is gay in real life, but his character is married to a woman in the movie, and there’s no mention of homosexuality.
“Magic Mike” isn’t a movie I expected to like that much (on the surface it is, after all, a movie about male strippers and I had my initial reservations as a straight man), but it’s quite good. It’s one of the most interesting films of its “kind” since Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights.” You take a naïve young person, have a world-weary mentor open them up to a flashy world of hedonism, and watch the inevitable fireworks; good and bad. Make it a bit of a cautionary tale while still crafting a piece of stylish entertainment. One difference being that “Boogie Nights” gave a thoughtful take on African American characters in Nicole Ari Parker as Becky Barnett and especially Don Cheadle as Buck Swope (that name being a reference to Robert Downey Sr.’s great 1969 satire, “Putney Swope,” in which a black man takes over as the head of a primarily white advertising agency). It also contained aspects related to homosexuality. The obsession Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character had with Mark Wahlberg, that character in general, and a violent scene with some homophobic young men when Wahlberg hits rock bottom (which doesn’t have anything to do with the representation of gay people specifically, but brutally demonstrates the reality of some people’s unfortunate, and despicable, ignorance) come to mind.
“Boogie Nights” is a more ambitious picture, but it too didn’t really address the gay side of the actual industry it was portraying. Also, “Boogie Nights” tends to come to mind a lot when I write about anything.
I just think it’s more interesting to diversify a cast when such a decision seems to be inherently plausible within the material. I was curious why the representation of the dancers was so narrow, and I honestly thought approaching more options would be more realistic. It seems like a potential missed opportunity to make a good movie even more fascinating, while also broadening your audience. You obviously want the inclusion to be organic, because no one wants a “token” character of any kind.
I’m not saying I possess every solution; just that it was lacking in this regard.
Of course, the cast and crew aren’t hurting; the flick was a huge box-office success and there’s been talk of a sequel, and even a musical. This is primarily food for thought, and maybe some readers have thoughts about the potential to diversify moving forward...